The Last Doughboy of World War I- page 2 | People & Places | Smithsonian
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At age 107, Frank Buckles proudly wears the French Legion of Honor medal, one of many honors to have come his way lately. (Karen Kasmauski)

The Last Doughboy of World War I

Frank Buckles lied about his age to serve in World War I.

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He returned home to the United States, got married, became a father and bought more than 300 acres of gently rolling meadows in West Virginia, where his ancestors had farmed more than two centuries earlier. Today, he remains active on the farm, raising cattle and maintaining his 18th-century farmhouse. He spends a good bit of time in a small, sunny reading room filled with World War I artifacts—including his doughboy's cap, letters he sent home from France and a German belt buckle inscribed with GOTT MIT UNS, or "God Is With Us." As the last of his kind, Buckles receives a lot of mail from strangers, writing to thank him for his service. He responds to all of it, with the help of his daughter, Susannah, 53. "I know that I have an obligation," he says, "to keep the [next generation] aware that we had a World War I."

Buckles stopped driving a few years ago, but he still makes forays with Susannah to inspect his farm and to visit nearby Charles Town. He also travels to events around the country, and was invited to the White House last March, when President Bush recognized his World War I service. "That was interesting," he says. "I went to the White House and sat in the Oval Room, and here came President Bush...and he asked me, 'Where were you born?' And I said, 'That's exactly the words that General Pershing used,''' when Corporal Buckles met him after the war.

Frank Buckles isn't surprised to be a centenarian. His father lived to 95, his grandmother to 96. "I had been warned by my two aunts, both of whom made it past 100, to be prepared—that I was going to live past 100 years old," he says. "I see no reason why I shouldn't live to 115."

Richard Rubin is writing a book about America's World War I veterans, to be titled The Last of the Doughboys.
Karen Kasmauski contributes to National Geographic.


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